Archives: January 2005

Death, Taxes, the death of taxes, social security and death and …

A very interesting cover story in this week’s City Pages, an interview with a NYT journalist on his new book about taxes in America. Wow. This guy’s got the stats to prove what we’ve suspected all along: big business has been legislating its own wealth.

I’ve been trying to follow the current Social Security debate, and this quote I found very provocative.

CP: Another complex topic you render understandable in your book is how Social Security has been used to underwrite cuts for the wealthiest taxpayers. Given how hard Bush leaned on Social Security to finance those tax cuts during his first term, is his plan to privatize it going to come back to haunt him?

Johnston: None of the news coverage of social security is addressing how it is a subsidy program for the super rich, none of it is addressing that President Bush is not being internally consistent when he says I want you to have more of your own money. Why isn’t he simply proposing that we reduce social security taxes by the amount of money he thinks younger workers shouldn’t pay, and then they can choose whether they want to spend it, which would stimulate the economy, or save it, which would stimulate long-term investment? Instead, why is he proposing to create a massive, new government program that will funnel fees to Wall Street? None of the news coverage is stepping back and asking that. It’s all reactive to what the president is saying. I think that’s in good part because the Democrats don’t have a clue. The Republicans have an agenda and the Democrats don’t have a clue.

Now, the reason the president would not propose letting younger workers pay a reduced social security tax in return for smaller benefits is that it would immediately expose that the financing of his tax cuts depends in good part on middle class workers paying excess social security taxes so that rich people can have lower income taxes. It would bring it right to the front of the budget debate. So they would never propose that.

I’d love to hear from any economics-savvy folks out there on what you think about the validity of these claims.

The Cross and the Crescent

Richard Fletcher gives us a nice little summary of the formative years of Christian/Muslim interaction. And they weren’t pretty. Or simple. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in understanding the current conflict between Christians and Muslims.

It’s a sibling rivalry, similar in dynamic to the Jewish/Christian relationship. I particularly like Jon Levenson’s book on the Jewish themes of this complicated rivalry. The most fascinating similarity is that Christians in the early years of Islam saw it as just another Christian sect — in much the same way that Judaism saw early Christianity as a Jewish sect.

lisnews makes my little career decisions controversial…

the internet is such a strange and glorious place. where else could a little term paper and my decision to drop out of grad school stir up passions amongst a bunch of strangers.

seems my library search got picked up on lisnews.com and several folks decided to weigh in.

it’s not about the money, silly. it’s about my time, and with whom I spend it.

as Gillian Welch once sung it:

never minded working hard -- it's who I'm workin' for

What’s the Matter with Kansas

The hot buzz book in lefty circles right now, Thomas Frank offers a provocative theory on why many American conservatives vote against their own economic interests. He re-frames the current political clash as a struggle between classes, over the rightful claim to who is the authentic American.

He doesn’t spend enough time looking at the psyche of the American evangelical, who he caricatures accurately enough but doesn’t understand internally. The rest of his book is spot on: entertaining, insightful, and I want to re-read it with a notebook in hand.

The Final Martyrs

I am a long-time fan of Shusaku Endo, the Japanese writer. I have read (I think) nearly all of his books available in English translation. I discovered this book of short stories during my recent adventure at the St Paul Public Library.

If you have read Silence or any of the other Endo novels, you might find this collection interesting. He used many of the short stories (and, to be accurate, personal essays) as exercises for working out many of the characters that appear in other novels.

If you read one Endo novel, I’d recommend Silence or Deep River.

If your tastes run more to nonfiction, I highly recommend his A Life of Jesus, one of the most thoughtful and moving retellings of the Christian story that I have read. Note: in The Final Martyrs is an essay talking about the experience of writing Life and he mentions that he re-wrote it, feeling very dis-satisfied with the original edition. I’d like to read both editions now, to see if I can understand his feelings.

In the Beginning

I finished Frank’s Kansas much quicker than I expected (though it bears a more thorough re-read) and picked up Chaim Potok’s novel from my in-laws’ shelf. It got me thinking about the complicated feelings America has toward the Jews who live here and in Israel, and the horrific events of the Shoah.

On that thread, I highly recommend James Carroll’s Constantine’s Sword. I read it a couple summers ago and was all fired up to start a grad program in ancient Jewish studies…till my lack of ancient Hebrew finally got in my way. A piercing history of the Church and the Jews. There are lots of holes in his academic theories, but they are very interesting holes, and his case is very compelling.

supersize this!

watched this movie last night with my wife. wow. you’ll have to drag me into mickey d’s kicking and screaming from here on in. not that we go often, but those french fries… well. salty goodness.

the longer I live the more a marxist I become. it’s all economics. everything. but more insidious is the creation of desire — often through manufactured nostalgia.

more on the nostalgia bit later. Jean Sulivan has good ideas on that evil beast…